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Kostner nears perfection in bittersweet victory

Italian takes short program as competitors grieve for Asada

Carolina Kostner
Carolina Kostner (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2011) - Carolina Kostner made a sad day a bit brighter for skating fans, performing her short program to sheer perfection and taking a commanding lead over Japan's Akiko Suzuki at the Grand Prix Final.

"I am so glad to finally skate a short program without major mistakes," the graceful Italian said.

Alena Leonova is locked into a tight battle for third with Alissa Czisny. Pre-event favorite Elizaveta Tuktamisheva made uncharacteristic jump errors and trails the field by more than five points.

The ladies took the ice in a depleted warm-up group of five for the most tragic of reasons. Two-time world champion Mao Asada arrived in Quebec City earlier this week and practiced, but withdrew on Thursday after her mother fell gravely ill in Japan. The 48-year-old woman died in a Nagoya hospital before her daughter arrived.

Kostner, the three-time Italian world medalist, skated a quirky yet fluid program, choreographed by Lori Nichol to music from Shostakovitch. Skating with her usual superb speed, she opened with a triple toe-triple toe, followed by a triple loop and double Axel. Her steps and gestures were in perfect time to the music. Everything looked light and easy, and she earned a season's best 66.43 points.

"I was actually quite nervous going into the six-minute [warm-up]," Kostner said. "I didn't find my rhythm [in the warm-up] but just tried to forget about it and do it as in practice.

"I have to admit that it is always much more fun to skate well, but of course it is not possible to always be perfect. I enjoy skating in general and practicing, so it is awesome to be able to skate at the Grand Prix Final and skate well. I try to enjoy as much as I can as I am not going to be able to compete for many more years."

Suzuki, fourth in Japan last season, had a dynamic program to "Hungarian Rhapsody," but turned out of her opening triple flip and had to reduce a planned triple toe to a double. This was her debut try at the difficult triple-triple in competition.

"I tried the triple flip for the first time at the beginning and it didn't quite go well, but the rest of the program was quite good," Suzuki said. "So I think that is why I am sitting in second place after the short program."

Leonova presented a contrast to the other ladies, performing the energetic character of a seductive pirate in her short to music from Pirates of the Caribbean. The Russian silver medalist hit all of her jumps, including an opening triple toe-triple toe, but gained just Level 2 for her closing combination spin and earned 60.46 points.

"I am happy with my performance, as my morning practice didn't go so well," Leonova said. "I did all my jumps. I am not quite sure what happened on the combo spin, but I will review the protocol and hopefully fix it."

Czisny glittered in pale pink for her short to "La Vie en Rose," which opened with a triple Lutz-double toe. The two-time U.S. champion went down on her next jump, a triple loop, but recovered to land a double Axel and charm the crowd with her steps and spins.

She enters the free skate just 0.16 points behind Leonova.

"Besides the one jump, I felt like the program was good, but the loop didn't happen today so I'm disappointed in that," Czisny said.

Russia's Tuktamisheva hit her reliable triple Lutz-triple toe combination at the start of her program, but doubled an intended triple loop and turned out of the landing on a double Axel. She takes 54.99 points into the free skate.